Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that even though the defense policy bill before the Senate isn’t an ideal solution since it doesn’t solve sequestration, it’s a better option than holding up the bill that touches all corners over the Defense Department to force an agreement to lift spending caps.
The Senate’s Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA in legislative speak, would give the Defense Department $612 billion, the budget level requested by the president. But it does so by adding extra money to a fund for overseas operations rather than lifting across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, which has been an unpopular plan among many Democrats.
President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that provides relief for the Defense Department but not other domestic programs, and some Democrats have promised to hold the bill up in Congress because of this.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said that solving sequestration is his “highest priority” as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and that using the war chest to fully fund the department is “not my preference.” But he said it is better than stalling the bill that covers everything from overseas operations to service member pay and benefits to encourage a compromise or underfunding the department.
“I refuse to ask the brave young Americans in our military to defend this nation with insufficient resources that would place their lives in unnecessary danger,” Mr. McCain said at the American Action Forum. “Holding the NDAA hostage to force that solution would be a deliberate and cynical failure to meet our constitutional duty to provide for the common defense.”
He said he expected the bill to be on the Senate floor this week so a conference to reach a compromise with House negotiators could begin over the summer.
The defense policy bill is considered must-pass legislation and has moved through Congress in bipartisan fashion for 53 consecutive years, even while lawmakers have been unable to move other important bills — even other defense issues like the president’s authorization for use of force against the Islamic State which has languished without a vote for months.
Mr. McCain attributes this record both to lawmakers’ concern for troops, as well as concern about their reputation in their own district or state, since measures in the bill often effect jobs or economies in the home towns of members with a military-heavy constituency.
“One impulse of course is the defense of the country and the many aspects of the authorizing legislation that are really vital,” he said. “The other not-so-laudable impulse is that there’s a lot in there for members of the committees.”